Alexis Lafreniere, chosen by the New York Rangers with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, could still be added to the 46 players invited to take part in Hockey Canada’s national junior team Sport Check selection camp.
The camp is the final step in picking the team that will represent Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Forwards Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles Kings, No. 2, 2020) and Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks, No. 3, 2019 NHL Draft), and defenseman Bowen Byram (Colorado Avalanche, No. 4, 2019), who each are hoping to be a part of an NHL roster this season, were on the list of invitees released Thursday.
“We’ve had discussions with the Rangers and have had preliminary discussions with the Chicago Blackhawks,” said Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney. “With respect to the Rangers, [general manager] Jeff Gorton and I had a good chat. It gave Jeff the opportunity to understand our timetable of what might be coming up with respect to this camp, for example, and well beyond that.”
The selection camp will take place at Westerner Park Centrium in Red Deer, Alberta from Nov. 16-Dec. 13.
“I know [Renney] sent a letter to NHL general managers this week informing them of our roster announcement and our intention is that we would reach out to each of the general managers that have players on this list and have that conversation,” said Scott Salmond, Canada’s senior vice-president of national teams. “Just so they understand our plan, and we understand theirs, and then come to some form of an understanding.”
The NHL still aims to play a full 82-game season, which is targeted to begin on or around Jan. 1, 2021. Salmond said he and Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman agreed that Dach would be returned to Chicago if the season starts by then.
“If [Chicago] is not playing, he will remain with the national junior team, so we’ve made a commitment back to Chicago and we’re appreciative of them loaning him for camp,” Salmond said. “As much as I’m sure people are hoping that the NHL starts on Jan. 1, there’s probably a few people on this call that hope it starts Jan. 6 or a little bit later.”
Lafreniere, a 19-year-old voted the most valuable player and best forward at the 2020 WJC after he scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games to help Canada finish first, signed his three-year, entry-level contract Oct. 12. He is expected to play a top-nine role for the Rangers this season.
“[Gorton] was certainly open-minded to the idea but hoping that his player would have the opportunity to join the NHL team in New York, as of now actually, to begin skating with the club,” Renney said. “I’ve indicated to him that I would circle back within about 10 days to see how things are sitting and what things look like for [Lafreniere] joining this camp and beyond.
“At this point in time, that’s where it stands right now, respecting that they have a job to do, too. I’m sensitive to the fact that we’ll give them time to get their feet under them as well, as an organization with [Lafreniere].”
The 2021 WJC, to be held Dec. 25 to Jan. 5, 2021, will be played entirely at Rogers Place in Edmonton without fans in attendance in a secure-zone bubble, similar to what the NHL used for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There are two entry points for Lafreniere to join Canada, since enhanced measures around testing and team protocols will be in effect due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
“The first entry point to the bubble is Nov. 16 (in Red Deer) and the second entry would be Dec. 13 in Edmonton,” Salmond said. “The only player that we are missing is Lafreniere, so if he was to be loaned to us later, he would be able to enter the bubble with the rest of the international teams and with our team in Edmonton.
“He’ll quarantine for four days [in Edmonton] and come out of that on Dec. 18 in preparation for our two exhibition games (against Sweden and Russia). Right now, we’re only talking about the potential of adding one player, and that would be on Dec. 13 if he doesn’t join us on Nov. 16.”